When the optimist describes the glass half full, the pessimist describes it half empty. In terms of the state of our bodies and our sense of wellbeing, do we think of ourselves as healthy or sick?
We tend to perceive people’s situations in simplified categories. For instance, we may see someone in a wheelchair and recognise her as disabled. We might be standing, and thus think we are healthy in comparison. But how can we judge the relative level of health between the one standing and the one seated? Those who are disabled do not usually want to be judged according to the capacities of others. They would rather be free to live as fully as possible according to their own capacities; in relative health rather than deemed sickness.
None of us is perfectly healthy. Our physical capacities, emotions and aspirations vary. What might be a full life for one is different from the full life of another. Just because I do not have 20:20 vision, does not mean that I cannot lead a very healthy, happy life according to my own judgement.
We naturally wish to be healthy rather than sick. But we shall always be compromised by one vulnerability or another. If we seek healthy being and healthy living, we thus have to deal with health compromised. And compromises are hard to face.
In the age of optimism, we have high expectations of long, active and happy lives. The constraints of poor health that we endure can be depressing and burdensome. Sometimes these constraints can be overcome. In other cases, we have to modify our lifestyle and adapt. It is hard to manage expectations. Should we accept our compromised health – or should we strive always for the elusive cure?
We naturally face this burden within ourselves – our bodies and minds. But there are ways in which these burdens can be shared. Sympathetic members of the family, friends or work colleagues can adjust their expectations and patterns to ease people into adapted ways of life. Special interest groups can support members who share the same health conditions.
If we are to face our particular health compromises, then we will be encouraged and strengthened by the support and understanding of others. Since we all endure one compromised health condition or another, then it makes sense to adapt our patterns to cope with diverse capacities.
To ensure that the world around us can deal with what compromised health we might face, we should pursue with others what we wish for ourselves.
This section offers articles that look deeply into the experiences of poor health and the limits of bodies and minds. They seek the wisdom of experience, and offer pointers to better face compromised health in the company of others.